Tory leadership elections. A brief history.

6 Jun

A confidence ballot in Boris Johnson may or may not be triggered this week.  While we wait to find out, here is a potted history of Conservative leadership elections

  • Nine Conservative MPs have been returned as Party leader since elections have been introduced – Edward Heath in 1965, Margaret Thatcher in 1975, John Major in 1990 and 1995, William Hague in 1997, Iain Duncan Smith in 2001, Michael Howard in 2003, David Cameron in 2005, Theresa May in 2016 and Boris Johnson in 2019.
  • Five of these nine were elected by MPs only (Heath, Thatcher, Major, Hague and Howard) and four by MPs and party members (Duncan Smith, Cameron, May, Johnson).
  • Six of the nine became Prime Minister: Heath, Thatcher, Major, Cameron, May and Johnson.
  • Four of the nine became Prime Minister after being elected Conservative leader (Major, Howard, May, Johnson). Three of the nine became Prime Minister having formed a government after a general election (Heath in 1970, Thatcher in 1979, Cameron in 2010).
  • One of the nine was elected unopposed – Michael Howard.
  • Two were backbenchers when elected – Howard and Johnson.
  • Four were subject to leadership challenges: Heath, Thatcher (twice), Duncan Smith and May.
  • Three of these took place before the rules governing challenges were changed in 1998 (Heath and Thatcher, twice) and two after (Duncan Smith and May).
  • Two were Leader of the Opposition when challenged: Heath and Duncan Smith. Both lost. Heath was challenged by Thatcher in 1975. Duncan Smith contested a ballot of Conservative MPs in 2003 that had been triggered by the required percentage of Tory MPs.
  • Two were Prime Minister when challenged: Thatcher and May.  Both won (Thatcher twice).  Thatcher was challenged by Anthony Meyer in 1989 and by Michael Heseltine in 1990.  May contested a ballot of Conservative MPs that had been triggered by the required percentage of Conservative MPs.
  • Thatcher resigned shortly after winning the first ballot of the 1990 contest; May resigned in June 2019 having won a ballot of Conservative MPs in December 2018.
  • John Major resigned as Conservative leader in 1995, stood for re-election, and was returned by Tory MPs.

The only point I would stress is that no Conservative leader challenged when Prime Minister has either a) lost a confidence ballot and b) survived winning one by even a year (the Meyer challenge to Thatcher took place in December 1989, the Heseltine one in November 1990).

Steve Barclay: My fellow Conservatives face a choice. Look outwards, and follow Johnson. Or look inwards – and tear ourselves apart.

6 Jun

Steve Barclay is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chief of Staff at Ten Downing Street.

Over the weekend, the whole country came together to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 7

years of selfless service.

I very much enjoyed the special events put on to celebrate this remarkable occasion, and I know that my parliamentary colleagues – and readers of ConservativeHome – were participating in celebrations in communities across the country.

As we return to Westminster today, the Conservative parliamentary party faces a choice: we can focus on delivering the policies needed to meet the challenges faced by those communities – and of people across the whole United Kingdom.

Or we can choose to waste time and energy looking backwards and inwards, talking to ourselves about ourselves.

In my view, politics is always about the future – because the people who elect us are focused on the challenges and opportunities ahead, not the debates of yesterday.

That is why the next general election will be decided on who offers the best vision for the future of the United Kingdom, not on prior mistakes or successes.

Our remarkable vaccine rollout – the fastest in Europe – and our unprecedented economic support during Covid helped save lives and livelihoods. But that won’t form the basic choice in front of voters next time.

Equally, nor will the mistakes – for example, the contents of the Sue Gray report.

We have lost half of this Parliament to Covid. That is not the fault of the Prime Minister or of Conservative MPs – and our constituents understand that. But it will be our fault entirely if we choose to waste the remaining half of the parliament on distractions over leadership.

The country faces many pressing challenges right now – so we must focus on what matters to the livelihoods of constituents rather than the obsessions of those on social media. My colleagues understand from their constituency work and surgeries just how much the cost of living situation is impacting hardworking people. Pressure on energy bills and food prices is causing real stress and anxiety across the country – and this will continue into the winter.

It is crucial that we show people we are delivering on the change they voted for in 2019.

If we continually divert our direction as a Conservative Party – and by extension the government and the country – into a protracted leadership debate, we will be sending out the opposite message.

Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has shown in his leadership on Ukraine, in getting Brexit done, in protecting jobs from the pandemic and resisting the repeated calls for a lockdown in the summer, that he is the right person to make the bold calls needed to respond to the economic challenge we now face. He is dedicated to unlocking talent across the UK and levelling up, and to delivering on our promises to the people who elected us. That is at the heart of the Cabinet’s agenda.

Rishi Sunak is fast tracking reforms to enable our pension funds and insurance firms to unlock billions in capital for investment in places that have felt ignored in the past. These are the big-ticket changes Brexit offers to communities like my own, who voted strongly to leave.

Priti Patel is ahead of our target to recruit 20,000 police offices to make our streets safer, and Sajid Javid is rolling out community diagnostic centres around the country to help clear the Covid backlogs.

Grant Shapps has set out reforms to help rail commuters who have to pay higher fares due to out-of-date trade union working practices. Jacob Rees-Mogg is reducing the size of Whitehall, ensuring we deliver more efficiently for everyone.

In all this, we are saying to people: we will support you. To get the skills you need. To get the investment your area needs. To ensure your local streets are safer and your health is supported.

And later this week, the Prime Minister will set out plans to expand home ownership to Generation Rent – building on our core Conservative belief that people aspire to own their own homes.

He and I are instinctive tax cutters: we know the tax burden as a result of Covid  is high and we know this would be the most benefit to the majority of our constituents. Money left in people’s pockets helps them plan and grows the economy.

The Parliamentary majority we hold is incredibly rare. To waste time now on continued internal factionalisaton would be indefensible to many of our party members – given how hard they worked to secure that majority.

I first stood for Parliament in 1997, when John Major had been hamstrung with a single figure majority. We then endured 13 years of Blair and Brown with no majority, before the frustrating constraints of coalition. We must not squander the enormous opportunity we have with our majority now – to make real Conservative change and deliver across the country.

The Queen’s Speech set out the government’s top priorities for the year ahead: growing the economy to address the cost of living, making our streets safer, funding the NHS to clear Covid backlogs, and providing the leadership needed in challenging times.

The problems we face aren’t easy to solve. Democracies around the world are all currently facing similar challenges. But under Boris Johnson’s leadership, our plan for jobs shows how we are navigated through these global challenges. To disrupt that progress now would be inexcusable to many who lent their vote to us for the first time at the last general election, and who want to see our Prime Minister deliver the changes promised for their communities.

Tony Lodge: Heath, Thatcher, Major, Blair – and the litany of errors that left us dependent on gas imports

22 Feb

Tony Lodge is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Britain and its leaders are learning the hard way. For the first time since the early 1970s, the country is facing an energy cost and supply crisis and – as then – a Conservative Prime Minister is largely helpless as he grapples with the climax of bad policy making which stretches back over a generation.

Whilst Edward Heath in 1972 faced the wrath of coal unions who had been allowed a stranglehold on energy supplies for too long, Boris Johnson endures a far worse situation – Britain’s growing inability to generate and supply the affordable power it needs. This is coupled with a desperate and growing dependence on imports of gas and electricity to keep the lights on, homes warm, and industry working.

The biggest domestic story of 2022 is likely to be energy prices. Forget parties at Number 10, channel migrants, or Covid fraud. The real crisis for Conservatives will be the steep rise in household bills, and the clear and obvious inability of Ministers to do much about it. Expect power company CEO summits in Whitehall, more urgent statements in the Commons and more public spending intervention to artificially fix prices.

On energy strategy, Britons have endured an unrivalled record of bad policymaking since the 1970s. Contradictory plans and missed opportunities have seriously eroded security of supply, affordability and helped drive jobs and key industries overseas. The die is cast for the short term and here is why.

Lessons could have been learned and the right decisions taken in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but were ducked. We are now paying the price. The right policies then would have shielded Britain now from a creaking system which is wildly exposed when the wind doesn’t blow, and we desperately hold out for the next shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as North Sea supplies fall and gas storage remains poor. How did it come to this and what can we do?

Following his mauling in the first miners’ strike of 1972, Heath foolishly rejected a plan to build over 30 new nuclear reactors totalling almost 40 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generation. The first plant would have opened in the early 1980s, started insulating Britain from high oil prices and helped wean the country off unionised coal.

Surprisingly and regrettably, Heath, the great Francophile, had ignored the bold plan and leadership from France to build no less than 40 nuclear plants between 1965 and 1985, which today still generate around 70 per cent of comparatively cheap electricity. Instead, Heath left the field open for Labour plans to increase coal burn via the 1974 ‘Plan for Coal’.

In 1980, Margaret Thatcher announced plans for eleven large reactors totalling 20GW of new electricity capacity, but only one was built at Sizewell. The then huge oversupply of coal, power generation overcapacity, abundant North Sea gas and a deep recession had together hurt the short-term commercial case for new nuclear build.

As coal wasn’t the answer and the case for nuclear lacked friends, Britain turned to its precious North Sea gas resource. It is this choice which is now hurting and will continue to do so for some time. The 1990s ‘Dash for Gas’ has led to Britain becoming one of the world’s largest gas consumers per capita, both for household use and particularly for the generation of electricity. Over 30 years, Britain’s North Sea gas bounty has been squandered to a perilous state where supply is increasingly now met from imports.

John Major and his ministers were warned during the early 1990s that the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) would be significantly run down by the mid-2000s if the proposed fleet of large new gas burning powered stations went ahead. Michael Heseltine reassured the Commons in 1992 that UK gas reserves would last for 55 years. He was wrong.

Many argued, including the then Chairman of British Gas, that North Sea natural gas is a valuable premium fuel and should not be wasted to generate electricity, where 50 per cent of its efficiency is lost in the process, unlike when used for direct heating or cooking. This argument was lost and gas replaced King Coal, generating over 50 per cent of UK electricity for the first time in 2010.

Britain’s gas overdependency and growing electricity import habit is the problem, and I first highlighted this for ConservativeHome 13 years ago. The focus must now be urgently to prioritise more domestic gas exploration and extraction, stop supporting plans to import more untaxed electricity from overseas and now turbo-charge new nuclear power. The latter should receive the same focused policy support as that enjoyed by those tasked with beating Covid.

This strategy must surely be Treasury-led. After all, when gas is produced overseas the Treasury loses huge revenues. When electricity is increasingly imported from Europe (as a result of the EU forcing Britain to close power plants early), its generation does not pay British carbon or transmission taxes because the power plants are overseas. Britain is offshoring its fuel supplies, power generation, and consequently losing billions in revenue alongside the erosion of energy security.

Between 2019 and 2020, liquefied natural gas (LNG) represented 40 per cent of all gas imports compared to an average 14 per cent in 2017/18. Imported gas pays no corporation tax in the UK, but it is perversely treated as producing ‘zero emissions’, despite it travelling thousands of miles by ship and carrying a large carbon production footprint. It therefore doesn’t face the same carbon costs, as UK producers which means gas imports are effectively subsidised compared to home production. This import dependency could reach as high as 75 per cent within the next 10 years, so new price spike crises are guaranteed to increase in frequency.

Britain’s dash for gas was a medium-term fix based around a once rich but now dwindled national resource – which has led to huge over-exposure to volatility and imports. Everything must now be done to invest in new domestic gas production to help us through, whilst prioritising the transition to new nuclear power with which renewables and green storage will co-exist. We must stop offshoring our ability to keep the lights on and keep households warm.

Edward Heath lost in 1974 after his second battle with the miners, the three-day week and soaring prices. Conservativs should beware.

Elliot’s taste

21 Feb

Like many readers of this site, I’m a Conservative Party member.  Like a smaller number, I’m an Association patron.  Both require giving money.  Requests for more duly follow.

And with good reason. The Party leadership worked out some while ago, roughly during the period when Andrew Feldman was Chairman, that it is hazardous to rely on a few givers of million pound-plus sums. For the donors may decide that they no longer wish to give on that scale.  Or eventually be barred from doing so.

Since declarations under £7500 don’t have to be declared, it’s impossible to know what proportion of any political party’s funds these raise. Though I’ve been told that the amount of money raised by the Conservatives from such gifts have been increasing in recent years.

This humdrum flow of requests for money helps to put yesterday’s Sunday Times splash into perspective.  “Revealed: the wealthy donors with PM’s ear,” it said.  The details were new (in other words, the names of those who attend an “advisory board”).  Its essence was not (the board’s existence was revealed last summer).

The Sunday Times referred to “a leak of several thousand documents”, and presumably there will be more to come in due course.  The paper is not revealing its sources – quite rightly too if it doesn’t wish to – and speculation would lead down a blind ally.

At any rate, the story contains a quote from Mohammed Amerci, a member of this board during the pandemic, who has since fallen out with the Party and is highly critical of the project.  What are the facts?  The starting-point is the existence of forums that allow wealthy donors to meet party politicians.

Labour has the Rose Network Chair Circle, which has invited donors to meet Keir Starmer, details of which are available online. The cost of membership is £5,000 a head per annum.  The Conservatives have the Leader’s Group (£50,000) and the Treasurer’s Group (£25,000)Michael Gove addressed the former last year.

No difference in principle, then.  The advisory board is higher in price (it costs £250,000 a head) and may be different in practice.  It is alleged that members are asked for advice as well as money, but no documentary evidence for the claim was cited; nor is it clear that such requests, if made, are unique to advisory board members.

It was reported that advisory board members lobbied Ministers directly, but it would be surprising if no member of other forums has ever done so, regardless of party.  Certainly, there is nothing new about senior Ministers being asked to attend events to “sing for their supper”.

As I say, the Party’s drive for more small donations puts this push for more large ones in perspective, and three points follow – beside the obvious one that since Labour is in a glass house when it comes to donor clubs, it isn’t well placed to throw stones (and that’s before we get to the turbulent story of the party’s relationship with the unions).

First, the members of the advisory board are unlikely to feel that they’re getting what they want. As I’ve written before, “consider the planned rise in Corporation Tax, the effective re-nationalisation of the railways, and the shift in infrastruscture funding from south to north.”

“Plus net zero, industrial strategy, and the Conservative commitment to spend more, more, more on doctors, teachers and nurses. Much of this goes down well with, say, the CBI but badly with Tory donors, who tend to be blue in tooth and claw”.

Indeed, if advisory board members are hoping for results, there’s scant evidence that they’re getting them.  The Sunday Times report specifically referred to property, construction and big tobacco.  The former is fighting a rearguard action against a Government ambition for a smokefree England by 2030.

As for construction, the irresistible force of the housing lobby is meeting the immovable object of voter resistance. Liberalising planning proposals met mass resistance from the Conservative backbenches – and that was before the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

If my first point is that donors don’t always get their way, my second is that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t – sometimes, even often.  Unfashionable though it may be to say so, the clash of interests in Parliament, and their peaceful resolution through debate, is integral to liberal democracy.

Those Tory forums are part of one of those interests, capital, making its view known to Conservative front benchers. The latter are Ministers because voters made them so, in the near-landslide of the 2019 general election. So far, so good for the advisory board.  But there is a sting in the tail.

Which is that those who give the Party £25 a year, the standard membership fee, have no less an interest in its future than those who give £250,000 a year, the advisory board fee.  This brings me to my third point, which may be less helpful to CCHQ than my first two.

Namely, that we know a bit about what party members think, at least if the ConservativeHome panel is anything to go by. Seven in ten believe that money raised by activists shouldn’t help fund the leader’s private costs (with specific reference to that Downing Street wallpaper). Half want more control of how the money that they raise is spent.

It follows that a big slice of members, if our panel is representative, ask as ConHome has sometimes done: whose party is it anyway?  If an advisory board is to raise six figure sums, should the party leader effectively control how these are spent? And might it not be wiser to declare membership, rather than have it leaked?

At any rate, the trend in recent years has been for the leader to appoint an MP to spearhead campaigning and a friend to raise money.  The latter in Boris Johnson’s case is Ben Elliot, who has got the advisory board up and running.  I suspect our panel’s take is that what it gets up to is fundamentally a matter of taste.

On which point, Elliot will be more aware than anyone else, or at least should be, that Labour has its sights trained on him.  As Andrew Gimson wrote in his profile of the Party Chairman for this site, Elliot would not have arranged the seating plan which seated Robert Jenrick next to Richard Desmond at a party fundraising dinner.

But “because Elliot is in overall charge of CCHQ, he still incurs criticism when things go wrong”, Andrew continued.  “His insouciant manner suggests to those around him a refusal to contemplate the danger of scandal.”  Elliot later apologised to the 1922 Committee Executive.

If taste fails, rules step in: that at any rate is the lesson of the John Major years.  And the more rules there are, the more regulators there are – the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Electoral Commission, the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards…

And the more regulators there are, the more power falls into the hands of those we don’t elect rather than those we do.  But if voters don’t like the people they elect to govern them, they don’t seem to care for those they don’t elect, either – at least, not if Brexit is anything to go by.

By the same token, they may not like how the Conservative Party is paid for, but they would like paying for it themselves even less.  And funding Starmer, too.  Not to mention Nicola Sturgeon.  But when private funding becomes tainted as illegitimate, state funding steps in.  Elliot is playing for higher stakes than he may appreciate.

John Redwood: Has the Government met its 2019 manifesto commitments? Here’s my assessment on where we are at.

10 Jan

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

Manifestos matter. They are the way for an incoming government to set a direction for the country and to provide a work plan for the civil service to implement.

In 2019 the Conservatives put forward a strong positive manifesto to the public. Its key messages helped the party win its first substantial majority since 1987. The main pledges were getting Brexit done, not raising the three main taxes, reducing immigration and boosting money and personnel in the NHS, the police and schools. There was also a commitment to net zero by 2050 without a detailed road map for the first few years of that long journey.

The Government will comfortably exceed its money pledges to the three main public services singled out for front page promises. I would expect it to hit its recruitment targets for more nurses, doctors, police and teachers over the Parliament. Fifty million more GP appointments should be achievable, maybe with a different balance between face-to-face and remote exchanges. So far so good.

Net zero will be more than honoured by a wide range of initiatives already taken. The danger is in going too far beyond other countries efforts with measures that have serious costs. Making and growing less ourselves to cut carbon dioxide, only to import from big fossil fuel users, is a loss for us and no win for the planet.

More difficulties surround the related issues of getting Brexit done, cutting low and no skilled migration and keeping taxes down. The idea behind these policies is to expand national wealth and income, to promote more prosperity for more people, and to level up the lower income areas and groups.

The policies were right in 2019 and remain right today. The optimistic spirit of the manifesto was its prime attraction. The idea was to boost people’s real incomes through more and better paid work. As the document stated there is “only one way to pay for world class healthcare and outstanding infrastructure and that is to foster and encourage the millions of British businesses large and small that create the wealth of the nation”. Levelling up is above all about individual personal journeys into better and more skilled jobs, into self employment and into ownership of homes and businesses.

Taxes worry people. High tax rates can kill confidence, drive business and investment out of the country and stifle entrepreneurs. The tax rate that collects the highest amount of tax is not the highest tax rate. Politicians who promise lower taxes and then put them up usually come unstuck with the electorate.

The 1974-9 Labour government presided over a nasty recession, raised taxes substantially and suffered a big defeat in 1979. The John Major government stood accused of putting up many taxes by the time of the 1997 election. It was defeated by its own backbenchers over a very unpopular attempt to hike VAT on fuel. The higher taxes contributed to the massive defeat in the general election as the outward reminder of the big Exchange Rate Mechanism recession the government had imposed.

The Labour government in 2010 was crushed by the great banking crash recession it helped bring about. The increases in income tax and fuel duty in its last budget underwrote the unpopularity. The first George Bush was a one term president because he was unable to keep his promise of no new taxes, the best thing he said in the election.

Fortunately this government has recovered the economy quickly from the sharp and sudden economic collapse brought on by anti-pandemic policies. The public is likely to be more understanding of this setback than they were of the big recessions that overwhelmed previous governments. The public will be less understanding if the Government presses on with its increase in National Insurance at a time of squeezed real incomes. It would be bad economics, as the Government needs to promote a further recovery. It is worse politics, taxing jobs and breaking a promise. The Government should drop the idea before it hits wage packets in April.

The Government also needs to redouble efforts to fulfil its promise over immigration. It said Brexit would allow real control over who comes into the country. It promised “We will not allow serious criminals into the country. If people abuse our hospitality we will remove them as quickly as possible”. The UK can now legislate as it wishes to exercise the controls it wants at the borders. The current Bill going through the Commons needs to be fit for purpose to deliver. Only a sharp drop off in illegal migration and in total numbers will now reassure people.

The manifesto showed concern for people’s fuel bills and promised “new measures to lower (energy) bills”. Instead the Government is presiding over a worrying energy shortage. We rely too much on imports, exposing us to the expensive vagaries of European markets during an acute European energy shortage. The manifesto promised the North Sea oil and gas industry ” a long future ahead” before getting to net zero, yet the Government is currently blocking a number of important new gas and oil developments that could ease the supply squeeze. Once again we need to ask why we stop our industry to cut carbon only to import fossil fuels from elsewhere generating extra CO2 to transport them.

The manifesto promised that the whole of the UK would leave the UK together. We were reassured that Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK “would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market”. Work to do there then. The Government needs to remove obstacles to goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland where they are certified as being for UK consumption.

This may require UK legislation to reinforce the message to our officials. It is fully compliant with any reasonable interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which can anyway be suspended if there is diversion of trade. The protocol expresses respect for the UK internal market and is meant to be compatible with other Northern Ireland Agreements that respect the place of NI in the UK. The promise to end the jurisdiction of the European Court over the UK must be carried through.

There are enough potential wins from the freedoms Brexit brings us to be the topic of another article. The manifesto holds out the realistic expectation that government will use its creativity and power to promote a more prosperous UK forged from that independence.

There needs to be more effort to implement that great vision. Success will come if the Government cuts taxes rather than raising them and if it promotes UK production rather than importing more. It needs to concentrate on helping people achieve their aims of better paid and more skilled employment and to do more to create a great environment for setting up and growing a business.

Stewart Jackson: A reshuffle that moved some of the Prime Minister’s critics into the Cabinet would be prudent

10 Jan

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

The precipitous recent decline in the poll ratings of the Prime Minister and predictions of electoral doom are indicative of two enduring phenomena: that Boris Johnson is unique and, like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before him, dominates the political landscape.

Conservative MPs will largely sink or swim as a result of the electorate’s judgement of him. But there’s nothing new in these setbacks, and many Conservatives have little institutional memory, and perhaps little understanding, of the vicissitudes of modern politics.

The bien pensant liberal media classes and their cheerleaders such as Matthew Parris are loathe to concede it, but the Prime Minister is a historically significant figure. He not only led the movement (or at least the last throes of it) which resulted in the UK’s exit from the European Union but, more fundamentally, built a mighty vote-winning electoral coalition founded on culture and community rather than class and capital.

What Johnson has had in spades is not just celebrity and chutzpah, but luck: inheriting a safe Commons seat in 2001 when the Tories had detoxifying work in progress; coming to power in London during a Conservative renaissance in the capital when the voters were sick of Ken Livingstone, and quitting the Cabinet after the Chequers plan in 2018 – to usurp the pitiful May interregnum and break the Brexit impasse.

The Prime Minister’s greatest weakness is that he loves to be loved but, ironically, the more hysterical and cacophonous the shrieks of his critics, the stronger he becomes politically. To many Tory voters, all the usual suspects hate the Prime Minister – not least bcause they believe that he was and should be one of them.

However, he lacks a Praetorian Guard in Parliament who will walk through fire for him (even John Major had one) and the relationship that many Tory MPs have with the First Lord of the Treasury is cynical and transactional.

Covid restrictions, tax rises, self-inflicted wounds such as the Paterson affair, ethical issues, the fall out from reshuffles and recurring problems of miscommunication between Number Ten and Conservative MPs have all soured the glad confident morning of December 2019.

Johnson still has the power to forgive – and a reshuffle that pulled some hitherto irreconcilables and malcontents back into the tent would be prudent politics.

My erstwhile colleague at Crosby Textor and electoral wunderkind, Isaac Levido, has compared the post Covid scenario as like when the tide is at its lowest: all the Prime Minister’s problems lie like broken boats on the harbour floor.

Brexit and future relations with the EU, the cost of living crisis and soaring energy prices, social care and the demographic timebomb, delivering the levelling up agenda and regional and national infrastructure, the busted local government funding and planning systems respectively, fighting the “Blob” in the delivery and reform of publc services and the endemic problem of uncontrolled immigration – all are moving up the list of voter salience.

But there’s nothing new under the sun. In 1979, Thatcher wrestled with an inflation rate of 13 per cent and interest rates of 17 per cent. Even John Major, barely a year before besting Neil Kinnock in the 1992 General Election struggled with a jobless figure in the millions, 10 per cent interest rates and annual price rises of seven per cent – none of which Johnson will experience next year or, most likely, before the next general election.

The last two months will have actually helped Johnson and his most devoted supporters to shake free the contagion of complacency and “BoJo is teflon” exceptionalism: the Cabinet revolt against further Covid restrictions was  timely and good for efficient government. It means that in future, controversial policies are likely to be more routinely challenged, and will be improved upon by robust critique.  The Iraq War showed that Cabinet government by fan club very rarely ends well.

The Prime Minister’s most urgent strategic challenge is the same as that for Thatcher, Blair, Major and David Cameron – namely, how to reinvent his Government. For Brown and May – similar personalities – it was already too late. But such reworking was done in 1986 after Westland and in 1991 before the ERM catastrophe.

Most recently, David Cameron offers hope and inspiration. (Yes, I did write that sentence!) His clever decision to back a Private Members’ Bill to give effect to an EU Referendum in 2014 soothed the Eurosceptic fever in the Commons, and allowed the Conservatives to focus on their retail offering to voters at the 2015 election.

What also helped teamwork and discipline then was a narrow but consistent poll lead for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, and the prospect of a re-energised Opposition and a possible SNP-Labour colation government.

Today, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is off life support, is winning the right to debate, is more credible than during the last six years, and sp tighter polls will concentrate the minds of fractious Conservative MPs. For all that, though, Labour is miles from looking like a government in waiting and, frankly, if Wes Streeting is the answer, it’s a very silly question.

Specifically, the Government must rebuild its demoralised electoral coalition, keep the Right broadly united and it develop a positive case for the continuance of a Conservative Government – a compelling narrative and a legacy.

Support amongst Leave voters has slumped from 72 per cent to 56 per cent during the last six months, and Red Wall voters are disilusioned and impatient.

Currently, many Tory supporters in the South and South West, ABs and C1s who voted Remain, but were terrified of a Corbyn government, are angry about tax rises, general incompetence, planning, Tory Sleaze 2.0 (sic) and are shopping around for a protest vote.

Ironically, Theresa May’s entrance speech on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in July 2016 provides the Prime Minister’s own template for rejuvenation.

There’s more than enough time to deliver on a commitment to localism – a repeat of the successes in Tees Valley and the West Midlands. Michael Gove has the acumen and strategic nous to understand that building enough houses for young voters is now existential for the Conservative Party – after all, you can’t create capitalists who don’t and can’t own capital. And deregulation, tax cuts and demonstrable Brexit wins, such as freeports, must be front and centre in the Conservative story.

The voters don’t care for Singapore on the Thames, but they generally favour traditional Tory values.The Cabinet, for all the media criticism, still has condident and pesuasive voices, such as Steve Barclay, Grant Shapps and Ben Wallace.

Johnson still has aces to play: by historic standards, he’s still polling reasonably well, even if the May local elections will be brutal. And as public opinion in the wake of the Colston statue trial has shown, the War on Woke energises his base, and is a cultural wedge issue which drives many newer Conservative voters.

But such action will be hobbled without firm and radical action on immigration.Similarly, “barnacles must be scraped off the boat” – such as socially liberal tokenism in new legislation, tax rises to fund green initiatives and appointing political opponents to public bodies.

It surely isn’t too much to ask for a Conservative Government to be, well, fundamentally Conservative? Competent, compassionate and communitarian. Johnson has limited time to deliver but at least he now knows and comprehends more than ever, as a classical scholar, the immortal words of the Roman slave to his Emperor: “respice post te, mortalem esse memento” – “look around you, remember you are mortal.”

Dean Russell: I must set the record straight on Camelot – and its work supporting communities

20 Oct

Dean Russell is MP for Watford.

When I was elected the Member of Parliament for Watford in 2019, one of my first calls was to the headquarters of the UK’s National Lottery operator, Camelot.

Camelot employs a considerable number of my constituents and is a great champion for Watford. Given Camelot’s importance to us in Watford, I have always taken a particularly keen interest in the performance of what is – after all – the invention of a Conservative government. The National Lottery etc. Act, spearheaded by then Prime Minister John Major, was passed in 1993, and Camelot launched what has become one of the world’s most successful lotteries in 1994.

Given this fantastic British success story, I have been surprised to read recent articles which have raised questions about Camelot’s performance, which in my view, are very wide of the mark. Of course, everyone is rightly entitled to opinions, and as MPs, we must share ours and those of our constituents. For this reason, as the proud elected representative of many Camelot employees, I felt it incumbent to set the record straight and share my view to balance the discussion.

Firstly, to tackle the biggest misnomer, there has been no decline in National Lottery Good Cause spending. Returns to Good Causes from National Lottery ticket sales last year were actually the highest on record.

Indeed, Camelot is delivering record returns to Good Causes from sales, record prize money to players and record payments in Lottery Duty to the Treasury. Most importantly, annual returns to Good Causes are now over £500 million higher than they were at the start of the third National Lottery licence back in 2009.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned so much about the National Lottery and about the success of that simple, Conservative idea, and how that original vision has been delivered under the custodianship of an operator that over a quarter of a century later is still completely on top of its game.

As a Conservative, I also believe wholeheartedly in levelling up. Since being elected, I have been very supportive of efforts to deliver on this. So, I can completely understand that colleagues may be tempted to believe a new operator promising money will flow into their constituencies would be a good thing.

But the fact is the operator of the National Lottery has no say in where Lottery funding is allocated for good causes. In Watford, like many community-minded businesses, Camelot has been incredibly supportive of our community given the role it plays as a significant local employer, but this is very different – and on a completely different scale – from the funding the National Lottery delivers for good causes every day which is allocated wholly separately.

The location of Camelot, or any operator, has no bearing on where good causes are supported via the National Lottery. It is a false expectation to expect otherwise. Camelot runs the operational aspects, which in the simplest terms is selling lottery tickets; the more tickets sold, the more money for good causes. So the focus should always be on ensuring a successful operator to ensure the money keeps flowing through the National Lottery to good causes across the UK. That is what Camelot’s staff have delivered on for decades.

To put this in context, to date, Camelot has helped – through the sale of National Lottery tickets – the public raise over £43 billion for charities, sports, arts, heritage and community projects, and a further £18.5 billion has gone to the Treasury via Lottery Duty. Every constituency, every postcode, pretty much every community in the UK has benefitted from lottery money. It is part of the fabric of our lives, and we must keep it so.

Camelot’s lottery operation is one of the most generous in the world, returning 95p of every pound spent to society through prizes, returns to Good Causes, Lottery Duty and the all-important retailer commission – the latter having been a lifeline for so many struggling, independent retailers on the high street. It achieves all of this with world-beating efficiency, retaining just five per cent of lottery revenues to cover running costs, technology, staff salaries and indeed profit (which comes in at just one per cent).

Under Camelot’s stewardship, the UK National Lottery has become a world leader and is the fifth-largest lottery worldwide by sales. And as the result of Camelot’s strategy of responsible play, The National Lottery is just 60th in the world by per capita spend. And – while this may be a boring point – Camelot runs a seamless operation. That isn’t down to the good luck that National Lottery winners enjoy. That is hard work, dedication and many years of expertise.

It has also adapted to the times, consistently building on their portfolio to keep the lottery relevant and fit for a modern and digital age, while carefully ensuring that all games are safe to play. So, while Camelot has continued to grow its wide range of draw-based games, it has also built a wide range of online instant win games in response to changing consumer appetites and demand. These games offer a digital option to players in addition to traditional draw-based games and scratch cards.

While some commentators have expressed concerns about this development, all of the statistics from organisations, including GamCare – an independent charity – confirm that the National Lottery is very different from mainstream gambling and the risk of problem play associated with National Lottery products remains extremely low.

In short, I struggle to think of a contract that has delivered more for the public good and for the public purse, with Camelot retaining just one penny in the pound for its performance.

Nor do I understand why this most British of success stories should be criticised because it has trusted Canadian shareholders in the form of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan when the rival bidders for the fourth lottery licence reportedly include a Czech billionaire, the second lottery operator of Italy and an Indian lottery operator.

As Conservatives, we want to see consistent value for money to the public purse, delivered through the private sector with wealth distributed across the UK. Camelot delivers on all of these things – in spades.

So to those critics of Camelot or indeed the National Lottery itself, I would urge them to look again at the record of Watford-based Camelot and take it from someone who has seen up-close the operation of Camelot’s hardworking employees as they deliver results with passion, care and dedication. I am in no doubt that the National Lottery is safe in their hands.

Howard Flight: It’s time Conservative MPs opposed the Treasury’s spending bandwagon

11 Oct

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

It is particularly disappointing to see the Prime Minister and Chancellor abandoning Tory tax principles. While the Treasury pulled the right levers during the Covid crisis, allowing government spending to rise to keep the economy afloat (and avoiding a crash), it is now raising taxes too soon and arguably more than is presently necessary.

The key way to restoring the public finances is a strong and growing economy, itself leading to increased tax revenues. In the four months since the March budget, government borrowing has been £26 billion lower than forecast by the OBR. The Treasury should be letting things run and not risk stalling economic growth with tax increases or threatened tax increases.

We need a long-term strategic framework for the tax system, giving a clear map for both its structure and the target levels of key tax rates. In the absence of this and without strong control of public spending, the default position is higher taxes and more complications. What we need is lower and stable taxes, and minimum government intervention. Back to 1979, whenever they reasonably could, Conservative governments have cut taxes.

The main problem is the NHS; there will always be limitless demand for free goods. The Government needs to face up to this and copy France to install NHS charges at modest levels and with exemptions for low-income individuals. We need to examine the French, German and other European health systems to identify appropriate funding models.

When John Major took over as Prime Minister, NHS costs were £36 billion p.a. Last year the total was £212 billion, which included £60 billion of Covid expenditure. To meet the pressures of Covid, the Government is now spending an additional £36 billion over the next three years and an additional £5.4 billion in England over the next six months. I suspect this is more than is really necessary and is politically inspired.

History is repeating itself in reverse. Back in 2002, Gordon Brown’s budget raised National Insurance contributions to pay for a record increase in funding for healthcare. Boris Johnson then criticised the NHS, where he pointed out that other European economies’ health systems were doing better than the UK.

He criticised Chancellor Brown for setting his face against the experience of other countries. He pointed out that the provision of European health services outstrips the UK because they do not rely exclusively on a top-down health service.

Back in 2002 Johnson’s contribution was that is was all very well to treat the NHS as a religion, but it is legitimate for some of us to point out that it is letting down some of its customers badly.

NHS expenditure is by far the largest public expenditure – defence at £43 billion p.a., for example, is no where near NHS levels. Most of the NHS’s core budget is funding for spending on day-to-day items such as staff salaries and medicines. A significant reason for the huge increase in expenditure has been the increase in staff remuneration.

The announcement of extra funds for the NHS also comes without any clear plan of how the money is going to be spent. Alas, the likely outcome is that the extra funding will disappear into the “black hole”, causing subsequent increases in the NHS social care levy and taking the overall tax burden to still higher levels.

For those who understand and support the advantages of a low-tax economy, a new vision of the future is needed which must include a reformed NHS and care industry. In the short-term Conservative MPs should muster their strength to oppose the spending bandwagon and to support tax reductions where they can be found.

Politicians and civil servants need to relearn that the route to lower taxes lies in sustained economic growth and discipline on public expenditure – and the route to economic growth lies in lower taxes. The public spending announcements arose from the lack of clear strategic thinking in the Treasury, a failure to understand economic reality and too much input for short term political positions.

Bim Afolami: The Olympic model of spotting and developing talent should be applied to academia

26 Jul

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

As the Olympics begins, I have a giddy sense of excitement. The coverage is the BBC at its best. I start to care about events you barely knew existed (Men’s 10m Air pistol anyone?), and cheer on each British athlete with immense fervour.

There is something magical about the Olympics. It isn’t just the hype. It is the stories behind each and every champion. There is something special about the sacrifices they have made, spending their teenage years in a mixture of holiday training camps in addition to the relentless grind before and after school, and seeing all of that effort culminate in competing at the very highest level.

We rightly applaud and celebrate them, and we also praise their highly focused coaches and families who have helped develop their extraordinary single-minded focus on achievement from a young age.

After the failure of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, during which Team GB only won one gold medal, finishing 36th in the medal table – below Belgium, Algeria and Kazakhstan – it prompted a period of furious self-flagellation in the media and serious soul searching among administrators.

Due to the brilliant decision of John Major as Prime Minister to introduce the National Lottery, this provided the funds for the “World Class Performance Programme” to start diverting funds into elite sport. It allowed athletes to devote themselves entirely to their training, paying their living costs and delivering a wide range of support services, from physiotherapy to sports science and nutrition.

Extra funds were also invested in greatly improved facilities across a range of different fields. The talent development programmes that made sure promising athletes were funnelled into their best sport at a younger age. All of this work has led to Team GB hugely improving its performance at Olympic Games, finishing 4th overall in Beijing 2008, 3rd in London 2012, and 2nd in Rio 2016.

Why do we think about academic and intellectual achievement so differently? Why do we regard the selection of children for academic ability and potential so anathema, yet ruthless and narrow selection for sporting prowess is regarded as rightly necessary to develop the leading stars of the future?

We need to focus on developing our brightest and most talented people, in a range of different fields, from a young age – and do this irrespective of their social background. As the Prime Minister often says, talent is evenly distributed in this country, but opportunity is not. We need to rediscover meritocracy in Britain.

The truth is that in order to do so, one is confronted by a difficult problem. How to discover and develop talented children in the population at large when the ladder of opportunity has so many rungs missing? And how do you give the best possible opportunities to such children once you have discovered them?

Adrian Wooldridge, Managing Editor of the Economist, in his new book The Aristocracy of Talent argues that the way to do this is to revive two ideas that were at the heart of the meritocratic movement until the “progressive” reforms of the 1960s: IQ testing and academic selection.

We know the arguments about the 11 plus – the Left argues that dividing the country between sheep and goats at 11, on the basis of one test at a very young age, does immense harm to those who failed in the process; the Right retorting that it gave unique life chances to bright working class children who were identified early and given life changing opportunities.

The best way forward is to learn from the failures and successes of the past. We don’t need a national 11 plus in the old style. We need more of a variegated school system that has lots of different types of schools from technical schools to music schools and arts schools, but which also makes room for highly academic schools in the state sector.

We have already provided the material for this with school academies – Brampton Manor Academy, for example, is situated in Newham, East London, with one in five children eligible for free school meals. The sixth form is highly selective (on the basis of GCSE grades), and it cultivates a highly academic atmosphere, with intensive Oxbridge training as well as a host of extracurricular subjects. Last year it won 55 places at Oxbridge – their method is working.

The Government could push this revolution further by allowing academies to select at 11 – not with an 11 plus, but with IQ tests developed precisely to avoid being susceptible to intensive tutoring that is all too common in preparation for that exam. This would not just be for the typical “academic” subjects.

For example, we should turbocharge the intake for our university technical colleges (which start at 13-14 years old) by scouring the country and actively selecting children with special aptitude in technical, engineering and design skills. These are the children who will go on to build our future high tech manufacturing capacity, or develop the sort of innovative ideas that will help us achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Wooldridge argues that, in addition to this, we could create a system of fully-funded national scholarships, awarded on the basis of a combination of IQ and social need, that would allow children to study at any school in the country – opportunities to be selected for this would happen continuously throughout secondary school, lest late developers be missed.

Private schools would be forced to open up a certain number of places to these students. These national merit scholars would be given free university education in return for agreeing to spend at least 10 years working in the public sector.

This would address the public sector’s growing problem with attracting high flyers, particularly in IT and tech. It would repair the fraying link between public service and intellectual excellence. As government and governing becomes ever more complex, and we demand more from our teachers and other public servants, we should try and ensure that more of the most academically able students are incentivised and trained for life in public service.

I know that real life is not the Olympics. Yet training and developing our most able young people for the future will not just be important for identifying hidden talent, but it will benefit all of our society. It is mad that the only type of selection that is verboten in the state sector is academic, when the wealthy can just pay for it.

Let’s rejuvenate the idea of meritocracy, and truly ensure that the most talented, from every background can get to the top. We might end up with better technical skills in industry, better civil servants, better teachers, and yes – much better politicians!

Robert Halfon: Beware the bear traps. The Conservatives’ biggest threat is complacency.

2 Jun

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

I remember the 1992 election. I was at Exeter University at the time completing a Masters degree, and can recall some events like the back of my hand. Neil Kinnock’s infamous Sheffield Rally being a special highlight.

On the Saturday after the poll, I was in a pub where I used to go every week for lunch and catch up with the newspapers and a very good chilli con-carne. The papers were full of commentary discussing the death of Labour and the new Tory Century.

The Guardian had a bitter cartoon by Steve Bell, about the Conservative success, which said “we rule you, we fool you… but you still vote for us”. John Major had not only achieved an election victory against the odds – and many predictions – but the Tories had gained the highest popular vote since the Second World War.

Five years later, Labour was in power under Tony Blair, with a massive victory. Conservatives were reduced to a small rump of MPs from only the heartiest of blue heartlands. The Tories were not to win a proper healthy majority until Boris Johnson’s extraordinary victory in December 2019. There was even a book published (in 2005) during the long opposition years called The Strange Death of Tory England’.

After the 2019 General Election success, and the remarkable local elections last month, history is repeating itself. The newspapers on May 8 May 2021, were almost word for word of what was said on May 3 1997. It is the Tory Century, Labour is finished etc etc.

Well, I like to think of myself as an optimist, and I definitely believe that Johnson has proved himself again and again, to be an election winner. But, for a number of reasons, I really worry when so many in our party and in the media think that is all over for the centre-left.

First: Events. Who can tell what will happen by Christmas, let alone by 2024?  Who could have ever imagined the last 16 months? Before the vaccine programme, Tory poll projectory last year was on a downer. As Donald Rumsfeld once said, there are so many unknown unknowns, that the idea all will be plain sailing for Tories is for the birds.

Second: The Labour Party. Ok – so Keir Starmer, can’t see the wood from the trees, and as yet has not laid a real glove on Johnson. But Labour remains a hugely motivated historical movement that has at its core a powerful message of helping the underdog. The moderate left are not just going to sit by forever and become extinct like political dodos. At some point – whether it comes before 2024 or after – they will reinvent themselves and renew. It happened under Blair and will happen again under a new Leader.

Third: A “Progressive Alliance”. It is not beyond the wit of the soft left, to form an alliance with the other left-of-centre parties.  This does not necessarily have to mean a “progressive” coalition in Government, but for Labour to stand down in parliamentary constituencies where another left party is in a good place to win – and vice versa. Such things are not implausible. After all, it happened on the centre right in 2019, when the Brexit Party stood down in most Tory seats to ensure a clear Conservative majority parliament for Brexit.

Fourth: The economy and jobs. So far, the economy appears to be bouncing back from lockdown. But what happens if there is a severe recession, or unemployment doesn’t ratchet down fast enough. At some point the £400 billion plus of taxpayers monies, spent by the Government during the pandemic, is going to have to be paid back. There will be tough decision after tough decision, which will dent Tory popularity in the polls.

Fifth: The thing that I perhaps fear the most is Tory complacency. We have many strengths, but when things are going well for us politically, our party has a tendency to put our foot in it – to say unsayable things, to be perceived as harsh and uncaring and appear to be on the side of the well-heeled rather than the just-about-managing – both in language and policy. The drip, drip, drip of these things can be corrosive. It has happened before and is one of the reasons why it took the Tory Party until the 2019 election to be properly trusted again by the public.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a misery-guts or as the Prime Minister calls “a gloomster”. Far from it. I am excited by the election victories we have had (after the local elections, my own Harlow constituency now has a majority Conservative Council for only the second time in the town’s history). Our Red Wall victories are enormous and the MPs who represent those seats are very impressive campaigners. Moreover, the levelling-up agenda – especially on skills – gladdens every Conservative. I just hope we remember there are enormous bear traps ahead, some of which will not even be of our making.